A 21-gun salute echoed around Windsor just after noon yesterday to signal the official start of the state visit of President Michael D Higgins to Britain.
The royal salute, by members of the King's Troop Royal Artillery, marked the arrival of Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina to the grounds of Windsor Castle, where they were greeted by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
A 41-gun royal salute was fired simultaneously at the Tower of London by members of the Honourable Artillery Company.
The town of Windsor was decked with Irish and union flags and other flags bearing royal emblems. Locals and visitors gathered on the streets from 9am to gain a good vantage point. Chris Brown, town crier of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, is a fixture at such occasions but said the build-up to the arrival of Mr Higgins had been "a lot more fun than usual. I've been busy reminding people that this is an historic occasion as the first official visit by an Irish head of state," he said.
Iggy Donnelly, from Co Tyrone but "domiciled" in England for 40 years, said it was a "wonderful occasion. I'm very proud he is coming here."
Mr Donnelly, who was in prime position on the high street with his wife Maura and granddaughter Milly, was among those who met the queen at a Buckingham Palace reception last month.
“I couldn’t believe it. It was something special for the normal people,” he said.
Colour Sgt Frankie Whelan (36), an Irish Guardsman from Co Wicklow, was also at Windsor Castle. He said it was a proud day for soldiers from the Republic who joined the British army, many of whom are serving in Cyprus.
“To have the President here, to be received by the queen, is a very proud day for all Irish soldiers,” he said, adding that he was happy to play a role, even if it was a small one.
Len Nash, a Windsor resident, arrived early, equipped with a deckchair, but it was the queen, more than the President, who he was keen to see.
An experienced royal observer, Mr Nash forecast "a lot of pageantry, which is something us Brits do well".
Guard of honour
President Higgins and Mrs Higgins travelled from the Irish Embassy in London with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall and were met by the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Amhrán na bhFiann was played before the queen and Mr Higgins were led to their horsedrawn carriage, the Australian state coach.
Mrs Higgins and Prince Philip followed in the the Scottish state coach. Prince Charles and Camilla, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and his wife Carol Hanney, and the Irish Ambassador to Britain Daniel Mulhall and his wife Greta, were also in the procession.
The carriages arrived at the Windsor Castle quadrangle at about 12.20pm, where a guard of honour was waiting and the national anthems of the two countries were played by an army band.
Mr Higgins inspected the guard, which included members of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and the Queen's Colour Company, accompanied by Prince Philip. He was introduced to drummer David Steed, who was handling the Irish Guards mascot – an Irish Wolfhound named Domhnall – who Mr Higgins presented with a ceremonial red coat.
Following a march-past, Mr and Mrs Higgins were brought into the castle by the queen and Prince Philip and taken to the apartment where they will stay.